Short Story Writing: A Practical Treatise on the Art of the Short Story (Classic Reprint)
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Excerpt from Short Story Writing: A Practical Treatise on the Art of the Short Story
This book is an attempt to put into definite form the principles observed by the masters of the short story in the practice of their art. It is the result of a careful study of their work, of some indifferent attempts to imitate them, and of the critical examination of several thousands of short stories written by amateurs. It is designed to be of practical assistance to the novice in short story writing, from the moment the tale is dimly conceived until it is completed and ready for the editors judgment.
The rules and principles here presented embody not what I conceive to be right, but what the great masters of the short story have thought to be right, and what they have proved to be at least successful. I speak only as a delver into the secrets of other men; and if I seem arrogant, it is due to the influence of the company I keep. My deductions are made not only from the artifices and triumphs of the successful, but from the struggles and failures of the unfortunate as well; and I have endeavored to make clear both the philosophy and the application of all the principles so deduced.
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of life, with gray hair, and a thin gray beard and a face singularly marked with intellect and cultivation, but which could never, even in his more youthful days, have expressed much warmth of heart. And this is the way Dickens sets forth Scrooge, the old miser, in "A Christmas Carol": Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out
development. You must make sure that the details which you select are fundamental and that they do have a definite influence which requires some knowledge of them. Any or all of these facts, however, may be introduced later in the narrative when their need appears; or they may be left in abeyance to enhance the element of suspense or mystery. But because they are necessary these facts need not be listed and ticketed like the dramatis personae of a play bill. They should be introduced so deftly
fondly clasped in his dear old arms. He thought how years ago he had held his own darling thus; how happy and bright his home had been in those sweet bygone days. He recalled how she had been reared in a home of plenty, how she had everything which constitutes the happiness of a young girl. The Story. The time was a warm summer evening in August, the place one of those quiet little towns west of the great Mississippi, and the scene opens in a neat little parlor where a number of young folks
Usually the matter is not of great moment; it is incidental rather than critical; and it offers little reason for exaggerated expressions, or rotund periods. Above all it should be natural, for the short story, despite its many conventionalities, is very near to nature. The extreme sensationalism affected by many amateurs is most absurd, for nature and things true to nature can never be really sensational—a fact which is unconsciously recognized by the offending writer in his resort to artificial
before that romantic adventure was most in demand; and still earlier it was bald realism; at the time of writing (Spring of 1900) war stories hold first place in popular esteem. The reason for the present style is obvious, but in general these modes are difficult to explain and almost impossible to forecast. Such stories contain no new plot, and for their timeliness depend entirely upon the introduction of the current fashion, whatever it may be; but they afford a grateful variety to the rather